The Players Reunion Dinner, held at Edgbaston in August to celebrate both the 25th anniversary of the 1994 Treble and 125 years of Warwickshire's first-class status, was a great success.
The mutual respect and affection among players of different Bears generations truly underlined what a special bond is created in those who pull on that first- team shirt, even only a small number of times.
It was a special event – and perhaps most special of all was to see that bond spanning more than 60 years as Ian King, left-arm spinner in the 1950s, chatted away with George Garrett and other young guns in the current squad.
I didn’t play for Warwickshire for that long, just three seasons because back then cricketers were so poorly paid it was hard to make a living so I went and did other things. But I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.Ian King
Those young guns know all about Hollies Stand at Edgbaston and its famous atmosphere, of course. And they know a little bit about the great Eric Hollies (2,323 first-class wickets at 20.94 between 1932 and 1957) himself.
But never before had they chatted to a chap who bowled at the other end to Hollies.
“It was so nice to talk to the young players,” recalls King, who recently turned 88. “They were all very respectful and interested in my playing days so long ago. They were a pleasure to meet.
“It was a lovely event and a real tribute to Keith Cook and Neil Snowball for organising it. I didn’t play for Warwickshire for that long, just three seasons because back then cricketers were so poorly paid it was hard to make a living so I went and did other things. But I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
“As a player, I met some lovely people and it was great fun and it was great to see from people I met at the dinner that the same is true today.”
That King played only 53 games for Warwickshire, between 1952 and 1955, had nothing to do with lack of ability. In 1954, his teasing left-arm spin delivered 69 wickets at 22.91 apiece as he fought his way into a team which, only three years earlier, had brought the championship pennant to Edgbaston for only the second time.
In the championship-winning year, 1951, Yorkshire-born King was still a 2nd XI player, also working in club offices to make ends meet, but his debut arrived the following year, against Kent at Maidstone. He quickly found himself in the company of bowling legends – Hollies, New Zealand paceman Tom Pritchard and medium-pacer Charlie Grove who, together in their careers, would accumulate the little matter of 3,885 first-class wickets.
“I worked in the office from the age of 17 under the great Leslie Deakins,” King recalls. “I mainly did the post and ran errands but I remember one day Leslie telling me and another young player, Hafeez Kardar, to go out into the ground and count up how many seats there were. I’m not sure why!”
The bizarre exercise didn’t do Kardar any harm. He married the daughter of Warwickshire chairman Cyril Hastilow and went on to became the father figure of Pakistan cricket, spend time as a Minister in the Punjab Provincial Assembly and serve as Pakistan’s ambassador to Switzerland.
King, meanwhile, discovered that bowling alongside the genius Hollies was a coin with two sides.
“Eric was a brilliant bowler,” he said. “It was a privilege to be in the same team and sometimes bowl at the other end as him. He didn’t spin the ball miles but could put it on a sixpence for hours on end. Tom was the quickest bowler around at the time and Charlie was as accurate as they came. They were great bowlers to be among.
“Eric’s figures over his career say it all about how good he was. Mind you, I remember one game, late in a season, at Trent Bridge, when it was a great batting wicket and Tom Dollery threw the ball to him and Eric said: ‘Not today, Tom, give the young lad a go instead.’ It was a good wicket and he didn’t want to get smashed around!
“I loved playing in the first team and did quite well and that was a lot down to the advice of my uncle Teddy, who had played a few games for Yorkshire. He advised me from a very young age and was a great mentor.
Well, one day at The Oval, Peter May had got to 41 and was playing some beautiful strokes. He came down the track to me and I did exactly as my uncle said, drifted one up a bit higher and wider. Peter still hit it but, instead of going miles, it came straight back at me, a real screamer, and I held on to it!Ian King
“One thing he told me was that, if a batsman was looking to come down the track and attack, to toss one up a little bit higher and a little bit wider.
“Well, one day at The Oval, Peter May had got to 41 and was playing some beautiful strokes. He came down the track to me and I did exactly as my uncle said, drifted one up a bit higher and wider. Peter still hit it but, instead of going miles, it came straight back at me, a real screamer, and I held on to it!”
King’s match-figures of 44-20-61-3 in that game helped Warwickshire to a six-wicket victory – more good news for the modestly-paid professionals in the side.
“I was paid £6 a week, but got another £2 if we won and another £1 if we got a first-innings lead,” said King. “For the professionals, it wasn’t lucrative, but it was still a great way to spend the summer.
“I remember one time we played away to Derbyshire and I had been left out because they wanted to play the extra seamer. I was in the pavilion and their fast-bowler Les Jackson was waiting to go into bat.
“We got chatting and I said ‘what a lovely day’ and he said to me: ‘Yes, I am one of the luckiest people in the world to be doing this.’ I said that it wasn’t down to luck – he was a very good bowler, and he said: ‘Son, I’ve been down the mines for five years. To earn money playing cricket in beautiful settings like this – that’s lucky!
“It is a wonderful way to earn a living and it was lovely to see all the young Warwickshire players at the reunion appreciate that. I wish them all the very best for the future and am very proud to be a Bear alongside them!”